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COVID-19 and Asian American college students: Discrimination, fear, and mental health

Angela Chia-Chen Chen, PhD, RN, PMHNP-BC, SeungYong Han, PhD, Wei Li, PhD, Karen J. Leong, PhD, Lihong Ou, MSN, RN


Introduction: Our research addressed double victimization among Asian Americans by COVID-19 and anti-Asian racial discrimination during the pandemic. Guided by the Vulnerable Populations framework that argues that health status reflects the dynamic interplay between resource availability and relative risk, we investigated time-sensitive questions that explored relative risk (perceived racial discrimination, fear of COVID-19), resources (COVID-19 prevention knowledge, resilience), and mental health status (post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression) in Asian American undergraduate and graduate students during the pandemic.

Methods: A mixed-methods research was conducted to examine the relationships among the relative risk, resources, and mental health outcomes in this population. We adapted questions from valid and reliable measures to assess key variables. Descriptive and regression analyses along with content analysis were used to analyze the quantitative and qualitative data.

Results: Our sample included 74 Asian American students (AA students) who participated in the online survey (53 complete cases were included in the statistical analysis) and an additional 10 AA students who were interviewed via Zoom. The results of hierarchical regression models confirmed a positive association between fear of COVID-19 and both mental health outcomes (PTSD and depression), and a negative association between COVID-19 prevention knowledge and mental health outcomes. Perceived racial discrimination was significantly and positively associated with PTSD and depression while controlling for sociodemographic variables. However, its association with outcomes diminished when fear of COVID-19 and COVID-19 prevention knowledge were added to the models. Our interview results supported the survey findings with more nuanced details not revealed in the survey.

Conclusion: The findings of this research will help public health officials and universities identify practices useful for promoting culturally congruent safety and protection in response to pandemics and other health emergencies.


Asian American, college student, COVID-19, fear, health, racial discrimination

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